Practice won't stink for Mundelein's girls basketball team Monday.
Not only should the Mustangs have a bounce in their step after their 10th win in 11 games -- the latest being Saturday night's 46-44 victory over Zion-Benton that knocked the Zee-Bees from the unbeaten ranks in the North Suburban Lake Division -- but they won't have to wear those ugly, smelly, reversible, PE-class tops.
Following Saturday night's game, Mundelein coach Brian Evans told his players they can have their practice gear back. He had taken the gear away around Christmas due to a lack of consistent effort on the defensive end.
"I gave them their choice," Evans said. "I said, 'You can take your practice gear and take a permanent marker and cross out the 'D' in Mundelein, because you're not playing any 'D,' and you can keep your practice gear and wear it that way, or you can put it in your locker and wear a PE vest.' "
The Mustangs chose the stinky vests, which they now can toss in a washing machine.
"Those haven't been washed in two years," Evans joked. "The kids wear them in PE class."
"We finally got (the practice gear) back," an excited Jamie Hemmer said.
The Mustangs can thank Hemmer, the super sub who came off the bench to score a game-high 16 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Her 8 points in the first half helped Mundelein (15-6, 5-3) take a 26-17 lead into intermission. But Zion-Benton (16-5, 8-1) kept coming and got within 38-32 after three quarters.
The Zee-Bees then pulled even two minutes into the fourth on 3-pointers by Carlie Fernandez and Tyvena Scafe and finally went ahead, 42-41, on center Mia Yarbrough's layup with 2:28 to go.
"We definitely had to fight to keep our lead," Hemmer said. "We lost it for a few minutes, but we knew that if came back together as a team and pulled it together, we could pull out the win."
Trailing by the eventual final score, Zion-Benton had the ball in the frontcourt and called timeout with 17.5 seconds left. The Zee-Bees eventually tried feeding Yarbrough (8 points, 8 rebounds) in the low post, but the Mustangs broke up the entry pass, and Maria DeVito chased down the ball as time expired.
Zion-Benton, which needed overtime to outlast Warren last week, had beaten Mundelein 64-59 last month. The defending NSC Lake champion Zee-Bees head to Stevenson on Tuesday night for a showdown game, as each team has 1 loss in the division.
"Teams have improved, and we're kind of in a slump," said Zion-Benton coach Tanya Johnson, whose Zee-Bees played without senior guard Shania Tompson (Achilles tendon). "It was a physical contest. Mundelein played hard, and they played better than we did and won the game. It was a hard-fought battle. They deserved to win the game."
Since defeating Grayslake North 62-57 in the championship game of their own Christmas tournament, Mundelein has allowed only one opponent to score 50 points, and that was Prospect, which beat the Mustangs 51-27.
"Our defense has gotten a lot better," Mundelein's Natalie Busscher said. "That's what we struggled with earlier in the season. We've tried to keep teams in front of us and not foul as much."
Busscher was clutch in the fourth quarter, scoring 7 of her 9 points. She sank 5 of 6 free throws, including 3 of 4 in the final 45 seconds. Her fastbreak layup, after a steal and dish by Hemmer, gave the lead back to the Mustangs at 43-42 with 1:50 left.
Shooting pressure free throws is something the junior guard embraces.
"I like knowing that the ball's in my hands at the end of games," Busscher said. "I think my teammates trust me too."
Marquetta Easley led Zion-Benton with 14 points, while Scafe scored 5 of her 12 in the fourth. Evans said it took a couple of timeouts in order for his players to regain their composure down the stretch.
"I told them, 'This is what we live for. Go out there and have fun,' " Evans said. "I said, 'If we lose, we lose.' "
Lately, the Mustangs have been doing a lot of winning.